Disclaimer: In the following, I discuss my use of illegal drugs. Let me be clear, I no longer do illegal drugs or have plans to ever do them again, nor do I wish to condone or encourage their use by anyone. Illegal drugs were a part of my life in the past and I can’t change that.
… (Stevie Wonder) was about to walk up the ramp to the stage when it was discovered that the hard disc of his synclavier, carrying all 25 minutes of synthesised music for his act, was missing. He said he could not play without it, turned round, walked down the ramp crying, with his band and other members of his entourage following him, and out of the stadium…
I was pleasantly surprised with the production and performances of the recent Grammy Tribute to Stevie Wonder. Stevie hasn’t lost a step and was hitting all the high notes singing effortlessly. No one plays harmonica like him. A true musical treasure. At one point in the show he said some very nice loving words about Whitney Houston.
This took me back to another time when he wasn’t so pleased with Ms. Houston and his words at the time were, how shall we say, a little less polite.
June 11, 1988 will always be a memorable day in many was in my life. I performed with Eurythmics that day for Mr Mandela’s 70th Birthday at Wembley Stadium. We went on at 9:30 am to a crowd estimated at over 100,000 crazed Brits – not to mention a worldwide TV audience. I had been raging in London for 2 weeks and as you can guess not much sleep for Mr. Z with a 6:00 am hotel lobby call.
George Michael and Sting had opened the show with two acoustic sets and the crowd was hungry for an electric hit. We gave it to them. And that was the last time Sting ever opened for me.
The Eurythmic’s Revenge Band had been touring the world for 3 years and we were tight, lean, fit and young… and I was insane. To this day (mostly when I arrive for a recording session) I am asked about and given props for my harmonica solo on “Must Of Been An Angel” that day which ironically was played by Stevie Wonder on the original recording.
There were a dozen or more 30ft poles back stage with TVs attached to them so all the artists could see what was happening onstage. Very state of the art in 1988. Consequently, most of the artists saw it and I was getting praised and back slaps from some of the biggest names in music all day. One that sticks in my mind is when a British roadie pal of mine came up to me and said, “Eric wants a word with you.” I said Eric who? He just shot me a wicked sidelong glance and said, “I think you know which Eric, mate.”
He took me over to a group 4 or 5 people that included Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, and the rest are a blur. They were deep in conversation but when my presence was announced it was all “well done mate!!” “Un fucking believable” and all that. Pretty heady stuff for sure.
But as the long day wore on my mind was turning to acquiring some illegal substances in hopes of reaching an altered state. OK, OK I was looking to get a buzz. Not too difficult in the ’80s and with all my roadie mates in attendance that magical day. The problem was finding a suitable place to make the transaction.
As we strolled in the bowels of massive Wembley Stadium with the current band on stage blasting and the roar of the crowd literally on top of us we found the place. It was some kind of metal storage shed for grounds keeping full of lawnmowers and such. The metal walls only went up about 6 or 7 ft and there was no roof, so if someone was talking on the other side you could hear them easily. But it was fairly secluded (we thought) and would do just fine for our purposes.
As we made our dirty little deal and were about to partake in the spoils we heard a fairly loud argument erupt right on the other side of the shed wall from where we stood. We all froze and didn’t say another word. We just listened as it was obvious they weren’t aware of our presence in the shed.
One voice was really pissed and saying that “fucking bitch… and with all the things I’ve done for her… I can’t believe she would do this… ” and on and on. I mean this brother was one angry motherfucker.
Another guy was trying to calm him saying, “But Stevie, Whitney only has 45 minutes too and can’t spare any. Look maybe we’ll find the DAT.”
“Fuck that Bitch!” was the reply.
By now it was obvious to us all who this Stevie was. Stevie Wonderful. Coming down hard on Whitney Houston. I promise you we were holed up at least 15 maybe 20 minutes listening to Stevie going off with a major rant on Whitney.
It was quite a performance.
Apparently, Stevie’s music was on a DAT tape or some other kind of disc and it had gotten lost. I heard later through the grapevine that he had asked Whitney for some of her stage time and she obviously had said no.
Apparently, Stevie did actually work things out on his end and did perform at the Nelson Mandela Concert. I didn’t see it but I gotta feeling he didn’t need no stinking backing track DAT tape.
I have never played with Stevie or even met him but I’m sure he’s a gas to be around. Maybe I wouldn’t bring this story up until after we’ve hung a while, ya know?
We were near each other once at Etta James funeral. He played the most pristine, beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace on harmonica I’ve ever heard. Fantastic. Not a dry eye in the house.
Stevie is like a musical god to a lot of us and a great humanitarian, without a doubt. But that day I found out he could be a mere mortal like the rest of us.
I think I love him even more for that.
Here’s my solo during the performance of “There Must Be An Angel:”
Read the full Wikipedia article about Stevie’s performance, here.
Holy Frijole! That was one hell of a solo! I can certainly see Eric, Peter, and the rest of them giving you kudos for that! Furthermore, I’ve really enjoyed your delightful and painfully honest blogs involving Etta, Rod, Bob Dylan (in the porto-pottie – lol) , and more!
OMG! That was a fabulous performance, Jimmy! Loved your brutal honesty in your story and no wonder everyone was back slapping you! Most readily deserved! F’ing fantastic!!
I admire the musical sensibility of Stevie Wonder, but I think you, Jimmy, is the best playing harmonica. Whenever starts playing, the other musicians disappear from the scene. I hope you understand what I mean. If possible, adds more videos. I like, very much see your videos at home, on Sundays.I think I’ve seen everyone. In one of the videos, you are teaching. I would like to be there to study with you. My favorite instrument is the saxophone. I always wait your reply.